Wednesday, August 11, 2010

TOP STORY > >Strike possible over teachers’ hours in PCSSD

Leader staff writer

Union leaders say that “many options” will be considered, including going on strike, when members meet Thursday to decide how to respond to the new bell schedule that will affect elementary schools in Pulaski County Special School District when school resumes Aug. 19.

At its monthly meeting last night, the PCSSD School Board discussed the revised bell schedule – which sets the start and end of the school day as well as bus pick-up times – and chose to proceed with the revised schedule, as recommended by Superintendent Charles Hopson.

After the meeting, Marty Nix, president of PulaskiPulaski Association of Classroom Teachers, would not say specifically if teachers might strike to challenge the new schedule, which in effect violates the existing contract the district has with its teachers. It forces teachers to now hold preparation periods during the lengthened school day rather than before or after the student day as their contract allows.

The new schedule will lengthen the school day by 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon. Some students will be getting on a bus as early as 6 a.m. with the new schedule.

Former Acting Superintend-ent Rob McGill in May had proposed the new schedule, but it has never come to a board vote. At the time, the majority of the board believed that the contract was no longer in effect and that the schedule had to be revised to comply with state law, which mandates teacher planning periods to be part of the school day.

Since then, Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Tim Fox has ruled – for a second time – that the district’s contract with teachers is in effect and must be followed.

The change in the bell schedule will not lengthen the school day for teachers, Nix pointed out. “This is a parent issue that will affect students and teachers’ ability to teach effectively.”

Not only will students start the day earlier, some will be eating lunch at 10:30 in the morning. “Then they go to recess and then sit in class for hours at a time,” Nix said. “This is supposed to be good for student learning. I don’t think so.”

“The bell schedule affects thousands of people in the community,” parent Mollie Clower told the board. “Therefore, it is the district’s obligation to inform both parents and teachers and give them a chance to voice any concerns about such a change as well as explain the plan to administer the change prior to making such a change permanent.”

Clower’s two daughters, who attend Baker Elementary School, now catch the bus at 7 a.m., but with the new schedule will have that will change to 6:30.

“The new bell schedule will require them to wait in the dark for 157 days out of 179 days of school. The earlier time is not going to make smarter students, but fatigued students.,” she said.

“It will not be unreasonable students will be at bus stop at 6 o’clock,” PCSSD transportation director Brad Montgomery affirmed.

Teachers last week filed a class-action injunction against the district for changing the schedule, contending it is a violation of their contract. The prep period was also shortened by five minutes, from 40 to 45 minutes, as stipulated in the contract.

Those violations are “just the tip of the iceberg,” Nix said of the revised bell schedule. “There have been so many violations to the contract, I couldn’t even name them all,” Nix said. “According to every ruling from the court, the PNA is still in effect. That is not something that can be interpreted differently. It is totally unambiguous.”

Hopson said he would “let our legal team explore that,” when asked if he had any concerns that the revised bell schedule was violating an existing contract.

Hopson said he thought the new schedule was good for students, because it would mean an additional 200 minutes per week for instruction.

“Those minutes are necessary to address academic disparities as well as enrichment for TAG (talented and gifted) students,” Hopson said.

Hopson said that to revert to the old schedule so close to the start of school could be a burden for parents who have already made accommodations to the new one, but that “nothing is set in stone.”

The schedule change does not affect secondary schools because those teachers already had their prep period during the day.

Board member Gwen Williams spoke against the new bell schedule because of complaints from parents and because the change violates the current teacher contract.

Williams reminded the board that all certified staff should have 10 days to review any proposed policy change before a board vote. “That has not happened.”

Board president Tim Clark said he has gotten calls from lots of parents complaining about the bell schedule change.

“A whole lot of families are trying to renegotiate their morning hours, some will have to take off work earlier,” Clark said.

Clark said he favored Hopson working with the transportation department to refine the schedule to minimize impacts on families.

Williams said she was “still in awe that the district would not follow a judge’s order. “We have got to come together as a district or we won’t have a district. We have got to sit down and talk about and work this thing out. The contract and PNA is in effect.

Look into your hearts and do the right thing. In want school to open next week.”

During the board comment period, Bill Vasquez encouraged his fellow board members to take a couple of hours to read the existing agreement and become familiar with it.

“It affects the lives of 18,000 students, 4,000 employees and 2 and a half million taxpayers,” Vasquez.

Vasquez also spoke against the revised bell schedule.

“We are putting them in the dark for an extra month,” Vasquez noted. “In rural areas, there are no street lights or sidewalks.”

In other board business, board member Danny Gililland was elected to represent the board in continuing negotiations between the district and PACT on matters regarding the current contract. The vote was 4-3, splitting along lines either favoring continued union recognition or not.

District and union leaders are to set a date soon for when to resume negotiations.